At the end of May my last remaining grandparent passed away. Though distance had grown between my Grandpa Jacobs and me, he meant a lot to me. He was my first intellectual sparring partner and… so much more. His memorial service—which had an incredible number of planned and unplanned speakers—was breathtakingly beautiful. Looking back at a picture of my brother-in-law standing beside by father as he spoke during the service I felt a pang of envy.

Christa’s husband has shared in most of the notable events in her adult life and vice versa. Whereas my future husband (if I have one) has missed out on so much. There is so much of his life that I must be missing too.  It’s impossible not to feel a little regretful. Yet, I wonder if I would have been able to have such long and meaningful conversations that day with my grandfather’s pastor or two of my cousins that I rarely see or the pastor’s wife if I had a spouse of my own. Those conversations were as important to me as the ceremony. With the wrong man at my side, they definitely wouldn’t have achieved the same depth—if they happened at all.

In the past, I shared this quote from the movie “Shall We Dance” that I felt captures part of the beauty of marriage:

“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

Over the last year I’ve realized that having a spouse as a witness to my life doesn’t mean as much to me as I thought it did. In fact, this sort of thing is exactly what I’m bad at.

Anyone who is friends with me knows that I’m great at being there during terrible things and wonderful things. It’s the mundane things you can’t count on me for. Forget about seeing me every day or even once a week! All of my relationships are defined by the quality of time spent together or in conversation, not by the quantity. Even when I’m living with people I can withdraw into myself like Sherlock when he’s deeply thinking or recovering from a particularly hard case. There have been people in my life who are exceptions to this rule but they are few and far between.

You could say that mundanity bores me. To some extent that’s accurate but that wouldn’t entirely explain why I’m disinclined to allow my friends or family to consistently participate in my daily life. The truth is that I guard my days like other people guard their secrets.  There is no more intrusive question to me than “What did you do today?”

I have often said that the quality of my life is defined by the quality of my conversations. That is what my life is made up of: anticipated and unanticipated conversations. What I truly excel at is developing deep connections with people quickly. Whether you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to debate with or are just looking for some entertaining banter, I’m your girl. I’m something of a chameleon in this way though I’m always distinctly myself. This is something that I treasure about my life, which is why I’m so protective of it. Bringing an extra person into the equation always changes the dynamic. Usually, the quality of a conversation (at least in terms of depth and sincerity) decreases with every additional person added. I can’t stand that.

Just as I cherish my time with people, I cherish my alone time. Anyone who has lived with me can attest that I think it is perfectly acceptable to be brusque when someone decides to talk to me when I’m not in the mood. It can make me a real pain to live with.

It’s really no wonder that I’m habitually single.

This is why its basically a prerequisite that I be wild about someone if I’m going to date them. Otherwise, their presence in my life-outside of work or an occasional get together-will feel like an intrusion. I didn’t choose to be this way. I didn’t wake up one day and decided that I wanted to have ridiculously high standards. It’s simply how I am. Just as you might find it impossible to strike up a conversation with a stranger, I find it almost impossible to be open to going on a date with someone unless we’ve already connected in a way that I don’t connect with most people or he’s won over my affection through a steady and charming pursuit.

I have tried to change this. Remember when I had that short lived relationship with a younger man? Or when I joined two online dating sites and went on a painful dud of a date? I was trying to play the role of another kind of woman. A woman who needs at least two dates to tell if a guy is a dud instead of one conversation. A woman who can take an online dating profile at face value instead of seeing the subtext. Someone who enjoys the experience of dating, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere. I love the idea of being like that but I’m not.

After failed attempts at changing (followed by a long season of beating myself up for being a boring loser), I’ve decided to embrace the way I am.

While I may envy Christa’s marriage a little, I’m also grateful for the life I’m able to live because I’m single. I do know what it’s like to share my life with the wrong kind of man. Once I had someone who mixed with my loved ones like oil and water. Had he been beside me at my Grandpa’s memorial I would have been torn between meeting his need for us to create a world-onto-ourselves in which he could feel comfortable amidst that sea of strangers and my desire to connect with my Grandpa’s friends and my extended family. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that compromise.

Feature image by Daniel Tseng.

2 thoughts on “Coping with Loss Alone

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